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Rob Myres
Mondesa Youth Opportunities

Bio
Rob MyresRob Myres is a former international business manager who worked in Sydney, London, Chicago and San Francisco, heading up the Training and Education divisions of several technology companies including Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Siebel Systems. Mr. Myres now lives in Pocatello when he is not in Namibia overseeing Mondesa Youth Opportunities, a youth development charity he founded in 2003.

Basic Education as the Centerpiece of Responsible YouthDevelopment

Introduction
In the past 10 years, there has been a re-energized development movement directed at the poorest countries in Africa. This positive trend seems to have originated from increased media exposure, celebrity-led awareness campaigns and a strong global economy amongst the developed nations. The increased awareness has resulted in stronger financial and practical commitments from private NGO’s and in some cases from developed countries.

There is another positive trend emerging in the development environment. Traditionally, development work was channeled almost exclusively through the very large NGO’s, churches, or via direct aid to developing nations. In the past decade, there has been an significant increase in smaller, community-based organizations, that are managed by non-development professionals and financially supported via smaller donations or lesser grants from various funding sources. These smaller charity operations tend to be focused on point solutions in smaller geographic areas and focus on education, sport or health and quality of life issues.

Comprehensive Development
Generally accepted approaches to eliminating poverty can be categorized into three distinct categories: political solutions, economic solutions (including debt relief and microfinance) and development solutions. While acknowledging the necessity for political solutions (particularly the need for politically stable governments who are open to policy change and external assistance) and economic solutions, this paper concerns itself only with development solutions. The three categories can be seen as three legs of a stool—failure in any category will limit or completely inhibit progress towards a final goal of elimination of poverty.
Within the development sector, methodologies vary from a single discreet program directed at a narrow age and demographic, to broad-based programs that are employed across multiple years of the lives of the target recipient.  In particular, the last 10 years has seen a significant increase in the use of organized sport as a medium for youth development in developing nations. Many of these programs provide excellent sport instruction and can teach or reinforce important values such as discipline, the value of teamwork, and the relationship between cause (effort) and effect (result).

Education as the centerpiece of poverty eradication strategy
The issue of poverty is complex. Poverty entails lack of opportunity and empowerment and education. Even when school is provided “free”, the cost of uniforms, school supplies, food and transportation can easily be beyond the means of many families. Studies have shown a repeated pattern that implies basic education and poverty are linked in a repetitive cycle. Thus poverty, is both a cause and an effect of inadequate basic education.
To even begin to solve the problem of poverty, we must first ensure every child has access to a quality basic education, even in the very poorest parts of the world.
The empowerment associated with a quality basic education allows a population to fully participate in the development process; it fosters the knowledge and skills necessary to embrace financial development programs and to increase earning potential.
A quality basic education provides the groundwork and foundation for other components of poverty reduction strategies including micro-finance schemes, social development and health awareness programs.
A quality basic education has the following proven benefits:

  • It opens avenues of communication through print and electronic media
  • It extends personal choice and control over one’s environment and provides the basis for acquisition of other key skills
  • It promotes greater self confidence and active participation in community affairs and political process
  • It provides the basic tools to disadvantaged people to move from exclusion to full participation in their society
  • It can empower entire nations because educated citizens are required to fully exploit the advantages of democratic institutions and to meet the demands for a more sophisticated workforce.
  • Individuals provided with a quality basic education tend to promote education more effectively among their own children, thus accelerating the effect of education
  • Educated women tend to have fewer children and healthier children

For those organizations that are focused on youth development, in the final analysis, a comprehensive suite of services that is centered around education, will prove to be more effective than single-program point solutions. Children who are not attending school, need to be enrolled and attend, and for children who are attending schools that are sub-par, education subsidy programs should be implemented. Sport, health awareness programs, micro-finance and economic development schemes, all are marginalized unless the local population have benefited from a quality basic education.

MYO Approach
MYO’s approach is fairly straightforward in design. The difficulty lies in executing the various programs and service offerings to an exceptional degree of quality on a consistent basis. Our approach to positive and healthy youth development is rooted first in education. Education is the binding agent for the entire curriculum. However, in order to provide as many development assets as possible, we also incorporate a variety of service offerings designed to bolster the effectiveness of the additional education training. In terms of education, our goal is not to replace the public schools, our goal is to subsidize a public education system that is severely lacking in resources and effectiveness.
Philosophically, MYO is distinguished from the broad field of NGO’s operating in this space by our fanatical commitment to excellence and our dedication to a comprehensive development approach. It is my belief that anything less than a complete development program, while providing stimulation and some benefits, will not achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating poverty. MYO is not a day care. We are in this for success, not to provide a few hours of fun for the kids each week.

Academics
The objective of the Academics program is to foster an environment that facilitates academic excellence in MYO students such that MYO students perform academically at a level that is equal to or better than students in a fully developed education system. Specifically, the MYO Academic Program strives to:

  • Ensure MYO learners perform at an academic level that permits university acceptance
  • Eliminate the gap between minimum education standards and those standards currently offered in the public education sector in Swakopmund/Mondesa area
  • Facilitate good study habits, listening and writing skills, and reading comprehension ability
  • Instil in learners a sense of responsibility and accountability for their education

Each MYO student receives a minimum of 3 hours of facilitated academic instruction each week.
Fundamentally, all MYO curriculum and learning strategy is designed to foster problem-solving and critical thinking ability and to promote academic excellence within the context of the curriculum put forth by the Namibia Ministry of Education.
Core subject areas taught in MYO include math, science and English. A disproportionate commitment is made to developing English skills in the lower grades. Poor reading, writing and reading comprehension skills has been identified as a major barrier to academic progress. English is a third language for the majority of MYO learners, and as such developing adequate English and reading skills in the early grades is critical to their academic success in the future.
Our Academic Program is comprised of the following services.

  • Facilitated Study Program (FSP) – The cornerstone of the Academic Support Program, the FSP is a combination of active teaching, tutoring and quiet study time under supervision.
  • Educational Field Trips – Field trips reinforce conceptual knowledge through practical experience. In addition, field trips reinforce socializing skills and promote positive inter-personal behaviour.
  • Guest Lecturers – Guest lecturers provide balanced perspective and real-world examples and experiences to provide context to students so that they can begin to bridge from the reality of their environment to opportunities that they would otherwise have not been exposed to or believed achievable.
  • Evaluation and Assessment – A combination of random and defined assessments allow us to constantly evaluate the learning that is being achieved with our students relative to the desired knowledge based on their grade level. This information is used to validate our effectiveness and most importantly, to provide quality feedback so we can constantly improve our techniques.
  • Parent Outreach – Parent Outreach programs are designed to assist parents of our teachers to understand the need for quiet study time at home, the importance of positive interactions with their children’s teachers and school management, and to generally understand their role in the education process.
  • Teacher Outreach – Teacher Outreach is a formal process whereby MYO staff meet each school term to discuss our mutual students to compare observations and any identified positive or negative trends that should be reinforced or addressed with corrective action.
  • Academic Competitions – Academic competitions such as spelling bee’s, math contests and science fair’s are used to create enthusiasm and support positive academic identity within students.
  • Tutoring/Quiet Study Time – In addition to occasional quiet study time within the context of FSP, additional quiet time is implemented for those students who desire it, or who require it due to remedial academic performance.

Sport, Performing Arts and Activities
Objective of this program is to create and implement activities that promote general physical, emotional and mental awareness and to foster a mentality that promotes healthy lifestyle choices over more negative behaviours.

  • To facilitate good health and physical fitness
  • To reinforce those life-skills attributes such as confidence, healthy competitiveness, discipline, memory and retention, and leadership skills that children learn through participation in structured sport, performing arts, competition and positive activities
  • To promote a love of music and performing arts through professionally facilitated instruction and the opportunity to perform and refine skills in music and performing arts
  • To enable learners to develop their artistic and creative skills
  • To encourage learners to express themselves creatively
  • To provide the opportunity for students to participate in a variety of healthy activities that provide a fun and positive alternative to less desirable or dangerous activities

Sports Programs
MYO offers a variety of sports programs such as tennis, jump rope and volleyball. Students receive a minimum of 3 hours of structured sports lessons each week.
Tennis is our flagship sports program and is coached at a competitive level. Students are able to opt out of tennis for a less competitive physical activity if they choose. All sports programs are coached and/or supervised. Sports activities are not recess times where students are allowed to play freely without structure of supervision.
As our primary sport offering, we contribute a disproportionate investment to maintaining a quality tennis program. A professionally trained tennis coach manages the tennis program and MYO tennis team members compete in competitions around the country. Traditionally, we have maintained a core group of tennis players in the top-10 in Namibia within their respective age groups.
Volleyball and jump rope are being developed as sport alternatives. These sports are supervised and coached by non-professional MYO staff. However, students are given the opportunity to compete and improve in these sports.
Music
Music is our flagship performing arts program. All MYO learners are required to participate in the Music Program in the first 3 years of  membership (grades 4-6). Each student in our program receives a minimum of 1.5 hours of music instruction each week.
Our primary objective in the Music Program is to present quality musical education which will foster an environment of exploration, expression and appreciation. Quality music instruction promotes self-discipline, memory retention, and how to work well individually and in groups.
The MYO Music Program is professionally coached using a variety of methods including creating and exploring music, introduction to music theory, reading and notation, and through practical application by learning and playing instruments and performing. Dance expression is also incorporated into the music program.
General Activities
MYO offers supervised activities that promote the general educational and life-skills traits that support our overall objectives. These activities include chess club, movie nights, darts, debate, reading club and other activities that can serve as a positive alternative to being on the streets or participating in less positive activities.

Life-Skills and Mentoring
The objective of the Life-Skills and Mentoring program is to foster an environment that promotes those behaviours associated with positive and healthy youth development. Specifically, this program is designed to:

  • Reinforce life skills and positive behaviours
  • Broaden the knowledge and life experiences of learners
  • Build confidence and improve personal decision-making skills
  • Instil a sense of community awareness and responsibility
  • Provide strong positive role models for all the children in our program
  • Promote a strong sense of positive identity within each child

The Life-Skills and Mentoring program utilizes a combination of approaches to fulfil the stated objectives.

Life-Skills
Specific curriculum or practical experiences for this program include:

  • Each grade in MYO is assigned a community project. These projects include cleaning a local park, volunteering to assist with younger children in MYO, or reading to old or disabled folks in a rest home.
  • Specific curriculum is delivered by MYO staff or guest lecturers on such topics as hygiene, nutrition, alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS awareness, and domestic abuse.

Mentoring
This is a formal program where every MYO senior staff member is assigned a child within our program. Each school term, the mentor must interview their assigned child and document the results. Additionally, the mentor must also speak to the parents or guardians of the child as well as their teacher. During the course of each term, all MYO staff members will also record casual observances of children, with an emphasis on noticing unusual or negative behaviours that could be an indicator of a larger issue.
MYO staff are also meant to be positive role models and to establish a repertoire with the youth in our program such that we know that each child has access to at least some adults who display positive and healthy traits.

Summary
MYO is a very serious program that is committed to delivering exceptional quality development services at the very best value for donors and supporters. We do not allow our mission to be confused as a program meant to give some young volunteers from overseas a year of life-learning experiences, nor are we confused with a day care or casual development initiative.
Our programs are intensive, carefully designed using good research, and delivered consistently with passion and focus.


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